The ISHI agenda is live and includes great talks from amazing speakers! While the forensic community is a tight-knit group, we can always get a little closer, right? With that in mind, we interviewed our speakers to preview their presentations and to get to know them a little better outside of their work. We’ve been posting their responses in a feature we like to call Under the Microscope.
Today, we’re chatting with Andrea Fischer, who will be presenting INTERPOL’s Approach to Missing Persons’ Family Matching at an International Level: Using Population Data from Geographic Groups for Kinship Calculations during the General Sessions on Tuesday, October 2nd.
How many cross-border missing persons cases do you estimate occur each year?
Different reporting practices combined with inconsistent data collection methods – even at the national level – make it very difficult to generate a reliable estimate about the actual number of cross-border missing persons.
However, there are some national statistics available: In the UK, more than 300,000 persons are reported missing every year (National Crime Agency, Missing Persons Data Report 2014/2015) and in the U.S. it has been estimated that there are 40,000 unidentified human remains in medical examiners’ offices across the country. Today’s increased mobility and international travel as well as world-wide migration surely have an impact on these national numbers and the problem of going missing and giving a name to unidentified bodies is a growing international phenomenon.
What challenges arise when working with cross-border missing persons cases? What is the likelihood of currently being able to solve such a case?
The chances of solving a cross-border missing persons case are greatly increased, if all available channels for information exchange are being utilized and where DNA samples are available for comparison.
However, unfortunately there are many challenges connected to cross-border missing persons cases. Very often there is a lack of awareness about available tools and services. INTERPOL, for example, has a notices system and databases (including DNA) enabling an international information exchange regarding missing persons and unidentified human remains which could be used more widely. Compounding the difficulties for missing persons cases, investigations might be conducted by various types of law enforcement or non-law enforcement entities in different countries. These investigative entities, for reasons ranging from practical to political, might be unable or unwilling to communicate with each other. Without an exchange of information the likelihood of solving cross-border missing persons cases is zero.
How does the Bonaparte software alleviate some of these challenges?
INTERPOL’s DNA database is currently only capable of a direct comparison of DNA profiles of missing persons and unidentified human remains. The Bonaparte software allows for matching of unidentified remains into family pedigrees through DNA comparisons and statistical evaluations. This means, in cases where a direct DNA profile of the missing person cannot be obtained (for example no toothbrush or other personal effect is available for DNA analysis), the DNA profiles of family members consenting to giving their samples can be used to help identify dead bodies which would otherwise remain unknown.
How did you become involved with this project?
I was hired to implement the Bonaparte software at INTERPOL and establish suitable conditions for family matching on an international level.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge that forensics laboratories are facing today?
Regarding the DNA work for missing persons it seems to me that the main challenge is a lack of funding world-wide and, maybe as a result of that, a lack of priority status for this kind of work in forensic laboratories.
For those who are on the fence about registering for the upcoming ISHI, please share your thoughts and reasons why they should attend.
This will be my sixth ISHI and I have both greatly enjoyed and learned from every meeting. What is particularly useful is being updated on the latest developments in the field and given the international nature of the event, ISHI provides an excellent opportunity for professional exchanges with people you would not normally get to meet.